John Akomfrah has spent his career creating films that are more 'tone poems' about a subject than literal narrative or documentary. Combining
newsreel footage with often surreal images he shoots, and sometimes an audio collage approach to sound, Akomfrah's films are by turns brilliant,
frustrating, effective, sophomoric and just plain unique. Some of the films 'work' better than others for me, but I suspect that is a subjective reaction,
and one that could easily change on repeated viewings.
In short, these are more like films you'd see playing as an installation in an art museum than at your local cinema, which probably explains why so
little of Akomfrah's impressive body of work is available on home video.
The Nine Muses (2010) takes as it's `subject' Africans and others emigrating to England after WW II, and the difficulties in assimilating, as shown in numerous and well
chosen old film clips. But the film combines those clips with gorgeous, lightly surreal newly shot images of two unidentifiable men in parkas against the background of
Alaska while on the soundtrack great writers from Homer to Beckett are read aloud by great actors (from Naxos' recorded book series, most many years old). The reading
with the most clear thematic connection is "The Odyssey" and it's tale of a difficult journey. But all the readings echo the immigrant experience, if sometimes in a very
oblique way. At the same time, the score is a mix of all sorts of music, often crashing into and playing on top of each other (more on assimilation? Loss of identity?)
I'll admit, by the end of the 93 minutes, I was starting to burn out a little on the lack of clear connection and context between these images, words, and the eclectic score.
But like poetry, this is a film that transcends logic to create a mood more than a story or point. And while I don't think it all works, I salute Akomfrah for being
willing to challenge his audience with something experimental and different.
If you happen to have a region free (or region 1) player, the U.S. has a 2nd disc with two interesting shorter films of Akomfrah's "Seven Songs for Malcolm X"
and "The Last Angel of History". I don't think either film is quite as strong as "The Nine Muses" (though both are a little more 'accessible'), but if you're interested
in the body of Akomfrah's work, that may be a better deal.